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Giant Panda LIVE UP Review

Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad LIVE UP!

Album Review

Contributing Writer : Rashon A. Massey

LIVE UP! is the latest effort from a band that has become dear to my heart.  Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad (GPGDS) first entered my playlist back at Wakarusa 2008 in Lawrence, KS.

Cleverly titled, LIVE UP! is the sophomore release following Slow Down.  With the first record being released years ago, it was due time for the band to produce a recording stating exactly where they stood to date; henceforth, the idea to not necessarily jump into a studio but share their songs as they are best heard – in a live setting.GiantPandaGDS_10-23-09_MBal

As soon as the audibly clear tones of this album begin, a slight pang in my heart rings.  With the departure of bandmates Matt and Rachel back in November of 2009, hearing Matt, the lead vocalist I’ve come to appreciate, saddens me; moreover, reassures me that this album is so special simply because it would capture them just as I’ve remembered.  Bands will grow and evolve and in my case, seeing a band more then five times in a year, you begin to admire the growth of their musicianship taking place right before your eyes.  Even still, this album is a poster of what I remember the sound to be as recent as October 2009 when I saw them last.

“Blacktoke” shoots out the canon of LIVE UP! with total control and passion you can expect from the members of GPGDS.  With this being a live recording, you get to hear all the soul-scratching of the high notes that lead vocalist Matt has placed his stamp upon.  Just getting right after the beat in his signature flow of lyrics, Matt unleashes the pure guerilla-style verbal slick at 3:35, and you’re surely bouncing exactly the way this track intends for you to move.

“International Mother,” the sweet slow burning joint of the show is one where you truly appreciate the talent of Rachel.  Her melodica guides you on a classic dub infused journey that rides on waves of bass rolling from James Searl.  Chris O’Brian, Matt’s brother who holds down the drums perfectly with every song, keeps that steady groove intellectual while you spark up thoughts with your eyes closed, swaying in the venue.

On that note, something I really dig comes from the wonderfully leveled background noise of the audience on this album.  Right towards the end of “International Mother,” you begin hearing the chatter of the crowd which is something you don’t always get with live albums.  Most times in post-production, they only keep the applause on tracks and occasional, “Oh’s,” audible; however, with LIVE UP! you are transported to a special reserved seat placed on the GPGDS stage, giving you the sound perspective of sitting amidst the six piece band while staring into the crowd.

With the start of “Seasons Change,” I’m reminded of the growth GPGDS has undergone over the years.  Allowing a true jam to flourish from a standard reggae progression, becoming slightly transient and fluid with drum and bass laden kick, by the time the 7:30 mark of the song hits, you realize this is some modern day dub taking place right in your ears, effortlessly transitioning back to the home progression to close the song.

By the time you get to guitarist Dylan Savage’s vocals on “Pockets,” you need the chill break to sway your hips and hear some brass horn action, but don’t get too comfortable because with the smartly placed “In These Times,” the track following in the set, you gotta slowly build your dancing shoes for the remix “Times Reprise.”

The best part of this album truly unfolds in the way each band member LISTENS!  They are communicating effectively on stage, each paying close attention to the breath, beat and tone color of each members notes.

Right about here in the album, you feel like you’ve been taken to a Marvin Gaye like atmosphere.  If you’ve ever listened to Gaye’s “What’s Going On” or “Got to Give It Up,” then you know what I mean about him layering the conversations, words and non-typical outside sounds to paint an environment of a backyard barbecue or basement hangout.  Again, this is where the live album excels in not just updating you to where the band currently reaches with their grasp, but in creating a room in which you’ve been personally invited to listen to the music.  You can visualize the ladies at the front of the stage shaking their ass and setting the tone for the dance floor.GiantPandaGDS-Press-2009_16

Although GPGDS is no longer the sextet I have come to know them for, I am deeply appreciative to own a copy of a recording that I will forever remember them as.  Below, check out a quick concert review of the new four piece at a recent show opener in Boston, MA by RFW Contributing Writer Jason Turgeon.

Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad | Boston, MA 02/05/10

Contributing Writer : Jason Turgeon

Playing a venue like the House of Blues in Boston is a pretty big deal for a young act like Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad. In fact, it’s a pretty big deal for John Brown’s Body, the Boston-area stalwarts of the modern reggae scene that GPGDS was here opening up for. In part, it’s a big deal because the venue itself is so damn big. The new HoB, just days shy of its one-year birthday, is best described as cavernous, a massive joint that holds a couple of thousand people before it even starts to feel full, with soaring ceilings and multiple levels of balconies for the VIP-types to hang out on. For those fans and acts who like their music hot, sweaty, and intimate, the House of Blues is a challenge–the sheer volume of the place and the club’s over-sized ventilation system can keep things downright chilly.

So the crew from Giant Panda had their work cut out for them last night in their hour-long set, quite literally trying to warm up a venue that couldn’t have been more than 60 degrees at the beginning of their set. It didn’t help that all the doors were wide open to the February chill as people streamed in from the outside for the entire time they were on stage. But they handled it with aplomb, cruising through a selection of their standards including “Seasons Change” and “Pockets.”

The set started off mellow, sounding more like background music for a really good party than an attention-grabbing live act. The small circle of head-bobbing, foot-tapping, dreadlock-waving fans in the front gradually rippled out through the growing crowd until by the end of the set everyone in the joint was giving the band at least partial attention as they worked to ensure the optimal viewing point for the main act. They gradually turned up the heat, and things really got cooking when they cranked up the intensity about three quarters of the way through during a positively blazing version of “In These Times” when guitarist Dylan Savage unleashed his inner Carlos Santana on the now-packed room. By this point, CDs were moving briskly off the merch table and the lines at the bar were non-existent as the whole place turned towards the stage to make sure they didn’t end up missing something.

By this point the room was finally warm enough to shed winter jackets and the crowd was ready for more. Unfortunately, the whole point of being a warm-up act is to get the crowd to this level and then leave, and after just one more song the band had to make way for the headliners. But rest assured, Boston now knows Giant Panda and they’ll be welcomed back here for a full length set next time they are in town.